February 25th, 2009
02:31 PM ET
14 years ago

McCain: U.S. losing Afghan war

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/11/art.getty.mccain.face.jpg caption="The Obama administration is currently conducting a review of overall U.S. policy in Afghanistan."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - Former GOP presidential nominee John McCain warned Wednesday that the U.S. is losing the war in Afghanistan.

The Arizona senator said that while he approved of President Barack Obama's recent decision to send 17,000 additional troops to the country, he believed an additional allied military and civilian surge would be necessary to prevent it from once again becoming an al-Qaeda safe haven.

The Obama administration is currently conducting a review of overall U.S. policy in the troubled Islamic republic.

"When you aren't winning in this kind of war, you are losing. And, in Afghanistan today, we are not winning," McCain said in remarks delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

McCain claimed that while the situation in Afghanistan is "nowhere near as dire as it was in Iraq," the number of insurgent attacks had spiked in 2008 and violence had increased over 500 percent in the past four years.

Growing portions of the country "suffer under the influence of the Taliban," he added.

McCain's comments echoed those of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who acknowledged last Friday that that the U.S. is facing a "very tough test" in Afghanistan.

"But I'm sure we will rise to the occasion the way we have many times before," Gates told a news conference in Krakow, Poland, where NATO defense ministers were meeting.

McCain said that the U.S. was winning in Afghanistan through early 2005, when some troops were withdrawn and "our integrated civil-military command structure was disassembled and replaced by a Balkanized and dysfunctional arrangement."

A Vietnam War veteran, former prisoner of war and longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain said that while he knows Americans "are weary of war ... we must win (in Afghanistan). The alternative is to risk that country's return to its previous function as a terrorist sanctuary, from which al Qaeda could train and plan attacks against America."

Among other things, McCain stated that the U.S. needs to establish a larger military headquarters capable of executing "the necessary planning and coordination for a nationwide counterinsurgency campaign."

He also said current plans to expand the Afghan army from 68,000 to 134,000 troops were insufficient. He recommended expanding the Afghan army to between 160,000 and 200,000 troops.

At the same time, he said, the U.S. needs to boost the country's non-military assistance to help strengthen "its (civilian) institutions, the rule of law, and the economy in order to provide a sustainable alternative to the drug trade."

Southern Afghanistan currently provides about two-thirds of the world's opium and heroin. Over the years, those two drugs have served as a major source of revenue for the insurgency, including the Taliban.

McCain warned that, even if his recommendations are adopted, the violence in Afghanistan is "likely to get worse before it gets better. The scale of resources required to prevail will be enormous."

The timetable, he concluded, "will be measured in years, not months."

Filed under: Afghanistan • John McCain
soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. Ariana


    February 25, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  2. yuri

    McCain's grim warning is to be taken very seriously, if we are to succeed in this mega mission of fixin' this agonizin' Afghan anarchy (sorry, Mr. Karzai). The truculent Taliban threat tantalizes today's traders of tranquility. May the Almighty help us!

    February 25, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  3. alvino

    McSurge sent troops to the wrong country?

    February 25, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  4. flo

    mcain needs to go home and take his aricept..

    February 25, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  5. Kim

    Losing the war in Afghanistan? How can you lose a war we've hardly been fighting? You and your pal Bush withdrew troops from Afghanistan to fight your phoney war in Iraq, leaving the Canadians and other allies there without our support.

    Losing the war? Ya think? Gawd. I suppose somehow you'll make this Obama's fault too.

    February 25, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  6. texas

    whinnin fool!! take some time out to count the number of houses you got!!!and hey ... dont forget to change ya pampers!!!

    February 25, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  7. KFR

    Mac go home or to alaska, you are a constant complainer.

    February 25, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  8. Kim

    *typo, s/b...how can you win...

    February 25, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  9. Had It

    He bragged that he knew how to get Bin Laden. Let's hear him tell all, or retreat (cut and run) as the traitor that he knows he has always been. He's such a petty little bitter man. Irrelevant at this point in our history.

    February 25, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  10. Tim

    STFU, McCain. Time for your nap.

    February 25, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  11. Betty in Arizona


    February 25, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  12. Ted van Tol

    CNN, Please post this message, it's very importaint!!

    Today I heard Barack Obama's State off the Union".
    I was moved by the way he adressed the military, he himself
    applaud for your soldiers.
    Last week on Dutch TV, I saw and heard the soldier who captured
    Sadam Hussein. He told that he had to kill a child because it could
    betraid him and the other soldiers. He was in a terrible shape and
    the army give's him not a penny. They told him he was mental Ill
    before he was in the army!

    Anyone who read this, bring it on to your President or his secr. off defense, I am sure for 100 % Obama will not accept that and help the man who lives in poverty on the moment. A disgrace from your former

    Please take action because I live in The Netherlands and cannot do
    enything about it

    February 25, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  13. Dottie

    CNN, can you use another picture of McCain? This one is horrible.

    February 25, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  14. Lawrence

    That's what happens when you don't bother going after "those people that knocked these buildings down". Anybody remember go ole' Bush proclaiming that and then invading Iraq instead. But heh they are both muslim countries so maybe he thought they looked alike.

    February 25, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  15. Al, California

    Conveniently for eternal Bush wars, we do not have definition on what means 'winning' in Afghanistan. Making sure that there are no (or not many) large terrorist training camps out there? That would be a reasonable goal. Hopefully could be achieved by not so much military but smart political means, including cooperation with Russia, which has allies in North Afghanistan tribes. Or 'winning' is transforming Afghanistan into some modern democratic country, almost ready to become our 51st state? That's a wish list for republican extremists and lovers of eternal war spending.

    February 25, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  16. Nathan,

    We weren't winning in Afghanistan 5 months ago when McBush was in office. This old man qualified his statment by pointing out that we weren't winning "today" as if we were winning sometime ago. This guy is a sore loser at best and a plain loser at worst. After having to sit there last night with Obama in the spotlight I bet he just had to find something negative. Get over it.

    February 25, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  17. danel

    Woulda, Shoulda, Wonda if we did not take our eyes off Afghanistan 7 years ago would it makes any difference? Without Iraq to occupy would have make a very significant difference. Just my two cents.

    February 25, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  18. Louis

    If we hadn't wasted trillions on two needless wars (Vietnam and Iraq) that Johnny supported, maybe we could afford this one. Time for him to shut up.

    February 25, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  19. Brad


    Ask the Russians how a bunch of thugs beats up an industrialized army!

    February 25, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  20. C

    McCain: trying his best to stay relevent – failing miserably.

    February 25, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  21. chuck tulsa

    When was the last time a foreign country won a war in Afghanistan? The British could not do it, the Russians could not do it; and it bankrupted their country.

    Eventually, when we are bankrupt, we will realize that nation building carries a heavy price. Also, where are we going to get all the excess troops McCain is calling for? When does the draft start?

    It is way past time to stop this foolishness and let the Middle Eastern countries run themselves. Bring our troops home...

    February 25, 2009 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  22. American

    Hey McCain, what do u know about winning a war. So far you participated in one war – the Vietnam War – and we lost it.

    February 25, 2009 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
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